Sunday, July 24, 2005
As with any such discovery, there has been a lot of debate on the topic, and both sides have been shouting themselves hoarse putting forward their point. Personally speaking, I straddle the fence in this matter, but objectively, I do come down on one side.
We have been using brain-enhancing drugs (BEDs – not to be confused with beds) for a long time, and caffeine is certainly not the only one. We also try to develop our brain by using it (which is the best exercise it can get). So what exactly is the problem if we do it by some other means?
The problem is ethical. The main argument against BEDs, put forth by Francis Fukuyama and quoted in the Times of India, is this: “The original purpose of medicine is, after all, to heal the sick, not turn healthy people into gods.” But then, the original purpose of life is to pass genes on to the next generation, but we haven’t let that stop us, have we? Saying that something is wrong just because it is ‘unnatural’ is plain silly. Look around you once. What do you see that is natural? Precious little. If you can accept that, then why can’t you accept this? [Note: If you argue that all this is bad as well, then please go and live in the mountains with the birds and pneumonia for company. I’m not stopping you. Also note that I have nothing personal against you, the mountains, the birds or, for that matter, pneumonia.]
Another argument is that BEDs will be used to help children (for example) with simple things such as multiplication tables and so on.* But who, pray tell, is stopping you from proceeding beyond tables? As a parent, you should try to ensure that your child uses her/his brain to its capacity – whether that capacity is ‘normal’ or increased. Parents today do not do that, and it is safe to say that they probably will not when BEDs arrive (even if they themselves take BEDs – drugs might increase intelligence, but they do not increase sense). But that doesn’t stop dissenters from using this point. Actually, I would say that if, due to parental laziness, a child knows, say, X number of things, then perhaps, with these drugs, it will know X + Y number of things (where Y > 0) with the same effort.
[ * : The reason this is wrong, they say, is that the ability of learning is affected by many factors, including social, economic and physiological. I ask, would the use of BEDs not be a factor as well? ]
The only real argument against BEDs that can be accepted is that the brain is very complex, and we do not know what side-effects may be caused by using something that affects the brain so directly. But you see, that is what this thing called ‘time’ is for, and that is what medical developments are for. Just as you wouldn’t try to run a real-time 3D simulation program on a 386 – you would wait for a better computer – you would not (or should not) put the average brain on a BED without developing the BED to the point where it is safe.
[Note: One argument that I’d like to put forward, but which doesn’t fit anywhere else is this: If BEDs get banned, then they are going to have a flourishing illegal market. Think of the implications of that – do we want such a thing to happen?]
Personally speaking, the idea of becoming something I am not makes me feel rather weird, but if everybody around me is turning into a genius, then I am not going to let my apprehension stand in the way of taking a BED. Readers may take this point as both for and against the use of BEDs. Furthermore, I’d like to ask if you think it’s right that we should oppose something solely because we are uncomfortable with it. I’m uncomfortable with economics and commerce (‘uncomfortable’ not as in ‘don’t understand’, but more basic, as in ‘don’t like’). So should I call for a worldwide ban on them?
The real reason why there are so many arguments against BEDs is this, put forward by the dissenters themselves: “Consider the ethics of tinkering directly with the organ from which all ethical reflection arises.” This is an argument which, I personally think, is almost frighteningly circular. It basically says: if your ethics permit using BEDs, then you won’t mind them affecting your organ of ethical reflection. In simple words, if it is okay with you, then it is okay with you; if it isn’t, then it isn’t.
Therefore, what you, as a sentient person (and there are fewer and fewer of them these days), have to decide is whether this reasoning appeals to you or not. If you agree with it, then you agree with it; if you don’t, then you don’t. And good for you.